Lady Lazarus Poem Analysis
LADY LAZARUS, by Sylvia Plath. Review. 2012. Suicide in every culture is considered to be very taboo, seen as overtly morbid and disturbing. However, it has also made many people famous. Sylvia Plath, a twentieth-century poet, was one of them. She was a ‘straight A’ student throughout her whole life, writing her first poem at eight years old. Just days after writing this poem, her father died. This event, specialists believe was the catalyst that caused a lot of her anguish and depression. Plath uses these highly strung emotions in her poem “Lady Lazarus. After her first near successful suicide at twenty years old, she met her husband to be. Another poet Ted Hughes, though after adultery on both sides occurred, the marriage finally ended. After the end of the marriage, her suicidal tendencies began once again. Lady Lazarus is a confessional poem, as it was written during that feverish time in her life, also with the use of self-parody. It is a complex analysis of her love hate relationship with death and suicide. After reading the title a first impression is made, of a biblical allusion. In the book Johns Lazarus of Bethany, Lazarus is resurrected from the dead by Jesus.
In the poem Plath or Lady Lazarus is resurrected, after each suicide attempt by the doctors. Her choice to change the gender of Lazarus to a lady projects a feminist ideal, an image of a female that’s powerful. The strong theme of death and decay of human flesh is throughout the poem. Plath also uses historical allusions of Nazis and the Jewish Holocaust. The poem uses, morbid, symbolisms that evokes chilling imagery. Another strong theme is feminism, and the love hate relationship with the men in her life, this would seem to be her father and her husband, Ted Hughes.
Plath also bitterly referred to her father as a Nazi and herself a Jew. Lady Lazarus introduces the reader to suicide and death instantly, ‘I have done it again’, tells the reader that it isn’t the first time she’s attempted suicide. Then with little emotion declares, she ‘manages’ to do it once every decade. She continues with the use of a metaphor and simile. ‘Skin as bright as a Nazi lampshade’, here she uses a historical allusion to the Nazis making their lampshades out of Jewish skin. There is also striking alliteration that personifies her face. My face featureless, fine Jew linen’. The ‘miracle in this stanza biblically alludes to Lazarus rising from the dead. “Peel off the napkin O my enemy Do I terrify? ” The last stanza at the start of the poem, include the first use of sarcasm which is used again throughout Lady Lazarus. Plath is daring her enemy to ‘Peel off the napkin’. Then in a more threatening tone asks, ’Do I terrify? ’ in the introduction she is addressing a singular person/enemy. As the poem progresses, the reader become numerous, as her identities are discovered.
Lady Lazarus has to be a different voice or character for each one, though none of these personalities are bearable to her. “The nose, the eye pits the full set of teeth? The sour breath Will vanish in a day:” The fifth stanza is the beginning of Lady Lazarus recovering from her third suicide attempt. Letting the reader know from experience she will recover quickly. ‘The sour breath will vanish in a day’ The next stanzas are continuing her restoration back to her original self ’and I a smiling women’. A subtle feminist tone, that’s suggesting people in society judge women externally.
With her smiling facade, she also makes the boastful statement that, ‘like a cat I have nine times to die’. ‘This is number Three’. The capitalisation of the word three exhibits her thoughts on this being an, exciting event for her, in which the numbers are likely to grow. This also translates Plath’s romantic and passionate relationship with death. Then her boastful manner turns to disgust, with a personification of death as a love object, which is portrayed in, ‘what a trash/to annihilate each decade. ’ The word trash is a very colloquial slang term for garbage. The next stanza is written in a simple, buoyant style.
Throughout the poem she chooses a flippant style to describe the seriousness of death and suicide. This evokes a feeling of disturbing tension. The constantly shifting tone and style appear as the monologue of Lady Lazarus. She speaks spontaneously from her pain, bitterness and anguish. In which the dominant effects are derived from colloquial, conversational language. The plain, simple style is given greater power, when keywords and phrases are obsessively repeated. Eileen. M. Aird states in ‘Sylvia Plath: Her Life and Work,’ When analysing the style of Lady Lazarus; She takes very personal, painful material and controls and forms it with the utmost rigour into a highly wrought poem, which is partly effective because of the polar opposition between the terrible gaiety of its form and the fiercely uncompromising seriousness of its subject. ” (Sylvia Plath; Her Life and Work. Aird, 1973) The next part of the poem is a continuance of her self-disgust. The ‘million filaments’, could be a representation of the many pieces of her life being on show, ‘the peanut crunching crowd’ has dissected these fragmented pieces over a long time.
The other people in this audience of business men and media are the doctors, Plath’s father and husband. She uses the American slang word ‘shove’ to portray the crowd as eager and aggressive. An illicit source of arousal is being offered to the crowd, as ‘The big strip tease’, is performed. This arousal is gained from both, her naked body and her naked psyche too. All as her morals and ideals for women disappear. As she shocks, thrills and performs for her audience. With the use of ‘Gentleman, Ladies,’ she is mocking, and shaming the audience. Plath acts as the announcer at her own freak show, guiding us through her features.
As this guide she continues to tell the audience of the first and second time, she skimmed death, on the second attempt at suicide when her mother and brother finally found her underneath a house. Her well hidden body was crawling with earth worms. Then exploiting her career in dying, she boasts that she is talented in the art of dying. Alluding to her life of straight A’s, in any other art form. Near the end of the poem Lady Lazarus has provided her audience with a theatrical, magical, near death experience. The crowed is indifferent to her still being alive, though the ‘Amused shout’, ‘a miracle’!
Then her attention shifts back to a single enemy again, and she addresses the doctor in particular, in a more direct way. “I am your opus I am your valuable The pure gold baby. ” Opus is a Latin word for a persons, masterpiece or work. So Plath is also valuable to the doctors who are doing their duty, when they work to revive her. This dance with the male doctors is exhausting and so frustrating to her. That she ‘melts to a shriek’, and ‘turn(s) and burn(s)’. With a diplomatic tone, Lady Lazarus then relays her understanding to the doctor, that he must do his duty.
Though in a very sarcastic tone, ‘Do not think I underestimate your great concern’. Plath uses strong, sinister, imagery, as she sets a tone of despair, and complete sense of submission, to all the men in her life. Including the doctors that kept her alive, business men that sold her, mind, and body to the peanut crunching crowd. Though at the end, Lady Lazarus grows stronger, and bolder against them. She addresses God, and Satan, by mocking them, ‘Herr God, Herr Lucifer’. Lady Lazarus, or Plath, submits to no man anymore, and it is clear there is no higher power than her.
As she warns anybody left watching her, ‘Beware, Beware’, and ‘I rise with my red hair/and I eat men like air’. Last stanza includes a strong mystical allusion to Phoenix Rising out of the ashes, Lady Lazarus rises with her red hair. She has now risen to control the men in her life, Lady Lazarus thinks of men as much as she has to think, of the air she breathes. Bibliography Aird, E. M. , 1973. In: Sylvia Plath, Her Life And Work. Available at: http://www. english. illinois. edu/maps/poets/_r/plath/lazarus. htm [Accessed 17 march 2012]. Hughes, T. (ed). 1981, Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems. Faber and Faber, Bloomsbury House, London. 1981. .